What’s Really Inside Our Officers: A Desire to Serve and Protect
On September 1, 2020, the Salt Lake Tribune published an editorial cartoon depicting columnist Pat Bagley’s interpretation of “The Deep Hate.” It is a representation of a law enforcement officer staring at the X-ray image of himself with the doctor pointing to an internal image of a hooded figure and stating, “Well, there’s your problem.” The illustration was clearly depicting hate within the law enforcement officer manifested as a hooded member of the Ku Klux Klan. This description of law enforcement is insulting, inappropriate, and outright obscene. We condemn the use of KKK imagery in the portrayal of Utah’s law enforcement professionals. In a state where proud traditions run deep in dialogue, trust, and community respect, and where trust in law enforcement is paramount, we should all stand above depictions that divide our communities and crudely classify all members of the law enforcement profession as racists.
We currently find our social climate in a state of upheaval, amidst a demand for justice and reform. This climate offers a historic opportunity for change. In fact, Utah law enforcement professionals and elected officials are working hard to actively listen to community members — particularly those who are Black, indigenous, and people of color — understand their demands, and identify potential areas of improvement. Since June, we have been in constant communication with the Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Commission, as well as local religious and community leaders. Together, we have identified 19 topics for future discussion, including use of force, transparency to officer misconduct, citizen review boards, and a ban on chokeholds and knee holds, which was passed by the Utah Legislature in June.
We are listening because we, as Utahns, are all committed to a community that is safe, equitable, and respectful. That is the Utah way.
The incredible men and women who serve as law enforcement officers definitely deserve better than this tasteless attempt at trivial and inappropriate satire. We recognize that law enforcement has room to improve. We also recognize that the powers and authorities entrusted to police officers are not to be taken lightly, abused, or misused; and when this trust is violated, there are consequences and accountability for those actions. Citizens rely on police officers to appropriately respond to situations and crises in which they themselves hope never to be involved. They depend on the women and men who have taken an oath to protect and serve and put on a uniform every day when they are called to intercede during critical times and required to make incredibly difficult decisions. George Pyle, opinion editor for the Tribune, said “The cartoon does not say that law enforcement officers are all white supremacists,” but an effort, like Mr. Bagley’s, that lacks nuance, sure comes across that way. The broad stroke used to widely disparage the law enforcement profession is disheartening, irresponsible, and does nothing to bring us together for the common good.
What too often is unseen and rarely highlighted is the relentless and tireless efforts of those in uniform, going out of their way to effect change for good. Every day, Utah’s police officers go to work not knowing whether they will have a calm, peaceful shift or be forced into an extremely intense and rapidly evolving set of circumstances, where emotions run high, and critical and potentially permanent decisions have to be made instantaneously as they are called to protect others and themselves from harm or death. Law enforcement officers are truly those rare few who choose to serve in a profession where they can protect the good and hold the lawless accountable.
While as law enforcement officers we appreciate and respect one’s right to free speech, this right does not exonerate us, as Americans, from the potential harm and divisiveness that hateful narratives and depictions can create within our society. As members of the press, your responsibility should be to look beyond inflammatory depictions and narratives that fuel division, and instead seize opportunities to highlight areas of improvement and bring our communities together.
Ironically, Mr. Bagley’s cartoon was intended to be an X-ray depiction of what we are made of as law enforcement professionals and Utahns. A real X-ray depiction would show a desire to serve and protect and a commitment to listen and improve. We are looking internally at how to improve systemically and individually. Unfortunately, Mr. Bagley’s cartoon does not reflect the real nature of our police officers or the real nature of us as Utahns. We urge the Salt Lake Tribune to also look internally at how to use its influential platform responsibly and ethically for the betterment of our society during this emotionally charged and critical time.
Utah Department of Public Safety
Utah Department of Corrections
Chief Tom Ross
Utah Chiefs Association
Sheriff Nathan Curtis
Utah Sheriffs Association
Utah League of Cities and Towns